Kuwait-led group to get Iran mobile licence

TEHRAN, May 11 (Reuters) - A consortium led by Kuwait's Mobile Telecommunications Co (ZAIN.KW: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) (Zain) will be awarded Iran's third mobile licence, ousting bid winner Emirates Telecommunications Corp ETEL.AD (Etisalat), the official IRNA news agency said.

Iran said in January that a consortium made up of Etisalat and Iran's Tamin Telecom had won an international tender for the licence.

But IRNA quoted the spokesman of Iran's Communications Regulatory Authority as saying on Monday the Etisalat-led group had "not fulfilled its obligations".

"With the elimination of Etisalat's ... consortium from the third operator project, the Zain Iran consortium, which was runner-up in the bidding, takes over the project," said the spokesman, Mohammad Reza Farnaqi.

Zain, Kuwait's top mobile operator, has been aggressively expanding and operates in 23 countries in the Middle East and Africa.

Etisalat, one of the largest Arab telecommunications company by market value, had said it expected to invest up to $5 billion over five years in its Iranian operations after winning the licence.

Iran has a mobile penetration rate of less than 60 percent, in a market where about half of its 70 million population is under 25 years of age.

The current telecoms operators in Iran are the state-owned Iran Telecommunication Company (TCI) and Irancell, which is 49 percent owned by MTN Group (MTNJ.J: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), sub-Saharan Africa's biggest mobile phone company.